Skip to the Content

Transit

The Astrologer's Newsletter - July/August 2008

Astrology, that EU Directive and Consumer Law

By Roy Gillett - AA President

(In the spirit of what we are about to consider, I should make it clear that what follows is an account of some clarification that colleagues have found by checking documents and asking questions. None of us has had the time to do a thorough job and certainly do not claim legal qualification or ability. What follows is some information to help and encourage you to find out the facts for yourself and so to act in accordance with the any changes in the law.)

 

Many of you will have noticed that in late May 2008, pieces appeared in the media that seemed to suggest a new law would require psychics and associated practitioners, which might include astrologers, to put up a notice in writing that their offerings were for "entertainment only" and not "experimentally proven".

The following links may or may not be still live, when you read this:

Times Online Business Law

 

Sky News 

Guardian Online

Times Online

The Spring Edition of BAPS Mercury magazine has an article with some interesting advance background to the act. For many years the APAI Ethical Code for its members has set an excellent standard of practice.

The full EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive can be found here: European Consumer Law (PDF) and more information here: Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (Wikipedia)

Having read all this, I spoke to colleagues. Robert Currey contacted his local Trading Standards Officer and was told:

"1. there is nothing specific relating to astrologers, psychics etc in the new EU directive. It is not that specific". This 'rule' probably emerged as a press comment based on their interpretation of the directive.

2. now misrepresentations by a trader are actionable in the civil or criminal courts.

3. the public must be allowed an informed choice.

4. the shape of the act will be determined by decisions in court." 

From this conversation Robert deduced :

"...we are free to work out our own disclaimers - and I think any astrologer with his or her head screwed on should under the new law advise clients before consulting so there is no misunderstanding of what astrology can and cannot do or any question of misrepresentation. This is really in line with the way ahead for all professional services especially where there is advice or therapy. However, I think only a pathetic astrologer or fraud need hide behind the 'entertainment only' cop out." He also told me that his Trading Standards Officer would be happy to advise him on the wording of any disclaimer.

 

A few days later, after receiving a booklet on the new regulations from Trading Standards, Robert clarified his earlier comments in the following email to me: "As I understand it, astrologers are not required to make any disclaimers under the new regulations. However, the following instructions from the Office of Fair Trading imply that a disclaimer would be advisable for practicing astrologers who provide a written or recorded analysis to avoid the risk of 'lengthy' investigation and prosecution.

'... This broadly means traders will have to act in a way that enables the average consumer to make free and informed purchasing decisions. - page 1 Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (Office of Fair Trading) booklet published March 2008 (OFT979) entitled "Good news for those who treat customers fairly. Bad news for those who don't."' 

"At the moment, we at Astro*Live*Link, include the following disclaimer at the bottom of our ads: 'Advice is for guidance only. For legal, medical, fiscal or other specialist questions, seek independent professional advice.'"

 

At present, I am using the following more extensive wording, which seeks to turn any disadvantage to an advantage; by opening out an intelligent debate on this matter and marketing my book on astrology's role in modern society!!

"The new Consumer Protection Act and EU Directive may require me to explain that I am offering you translations into ordinary language of traditional meanings of astronomical cycles. These are based on ideas used for thousands of years, enhanced by information from my experience of using them. Such information is, however, challenged by contemporary mechanical science. It is offered on the understanding that it is for you to decide if this knowledge gives useful insight that helps you make better life decisions. You should seek independent professional advice for legal, medical, fiscal and other specialist questions.

If you wish to consider astrology and its place in your life and society more deeply, you may wish to read my book Astrology and Compassion: the Convenient Truth"

In conclusion a word of warning: although the original media hype may have been misleadingly negative and exaggerated, the key point to remember is the Trading Standards Officer's statement:

"4. the shape of the act will be determined by decisions in court".

Especially in the early days of a law, when there is no precedent; lengthy legal proceedings are the last thing anyone wants. If an astrologer is successfully sued for misrepresentation, the resulting legal precedent may impose unacceptable restrictions that affect the entire astrological profession. The disclaimers and ideas above may not be suited to what you do. So do check up the correctness of what you decide very carefully. If in doubt, you may wish to consult your local Trading Standards Officer and keep an office reference to show you have done this, should you be questioned later.

Lastly, let us all keep each other in touch with any new information about this law that we discover. Send any feedback to the Transit address (below), so it can be collated and passed on in future editions.